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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Researchers to hunt heart disease clues in WHI data

Boston researchers have won two of 12 two-year contracts from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to study major diseases that affect post-menopausal women. The groups will use blood samples and data from the massive Women's Health Initiative to see what factors are important in predicting and preventing heart disease. The 12 grants will total $18.7 million.

Dr. I-Min Lee, Dr. JoAnn Manson and Dr. Howard D. Sesso of Brigham and Women's Hospital hope to tease out the biochemical mechanisms behind physical activity and lower body fat, looking for the way they reduce the risk of heart disease.

Dr. Alice Lichtenstein of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University wants to see how certain biomarkers compare with self-reports of food intake as predictors of heart disease.

Lee's team will focus on inflammatory markers, including c-reactive protein, in blood samples to look beyond known risk factors such as high blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin sensitivity.

She's interested in the protective effect of physical activity, particularly in overweight people.

"We know it's very hard for people to lose weight once they become heavy, but there are some studies that say even if you are heavy but physically active, you lower your risk," she said. "We want to understand that mechanism."

At Tufts, Lichtenstein will measure certain proteins in blood samples to see how well they predict risk for heart disease. Samples will come from 1,200 women who died of cardiovascular disease during the 15-year WHI study. Those will be compared with samples from 1,200 women who did not die.

She'll be looking for two kinds of fatty acids and two forms of vitamin K that have been associated with either an increased or decreased risk for heart disease: omega-3s vs. trans fatty acids and natural vitamin K vs. the kind formed when fat is hydrogenated.

After seeing if those biomarkers are linked to heart disease, she will compare them with food diaries to see which is the better predictor.

"We'll look at biomarkers to see if they are good predictors of outcome," she said. "If they are actually validated, then they can be used in a broad range of applications.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:02 AM
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